Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “rescue

A major problem

Last week I climbed Uluru (Ayers Rock) in central Australia. On the way down there was a man who became very unwell around 3/4 of the way up the climb chain. He was being assisted by two off-duty police officers and two off-duty paramedics. This turned into a major problem when he suffered a heart attack. They performed CPR and used a defibrillator to shock his heart back into a survivable rhythm, saving his life. A few hours later the man was carefully moved down the steep face of the rock on a stretcher using ropes and pulleys. He was treated at Yulara Health Centre before being flown to Alice Springs Hospital by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and then to Adelaide for specialist heart surgery.

This post looks at a major problem faced by a commander in the Syrian army, which is described in the Bible. We will see from this that God can deliver us from our major problem.

Text

Naaman’s problem is described in 2 Kings 5:1-15 (NIV):

1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram [Syria]. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet [Elisha] who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

Context

Author – An unknown Jew wrote 1&2 Kings under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pt. 1:20-21).

Audience – 1 & 2 Kings was written to fellow Jews who were in exile in Babylon.

Content – 1 & 2 Kings is a selective history of Israel from the time of king Solomon (970BC) to the Babylonian exile (586BC). This is about 384 years of history.

When written (or complied) – 1 & 2 Kings was written after the conquest of Judah in 586BC, probably during the Babylonian exile (say about 550BC).

Kingdoms of Israel and Judah – After the reign of Solomon, the Hebrew nation was divided into two kingdoms: Israel was in the north whose capital was Samaria, and Judah was in the south whose capital was Jerusalem. Israel lasted 210 years until it was conquered in 722BC, and Judah lasted 345 years until it was conquered in 586BC. They were conquered because of their idolatry and disobedience of their covenant with God (Dt. 28:32-37, 47-57, 63-64).

Aram (Syria) – Aram was a Gentile nation north-east of Israel whose capital was Damascus. It was an idol worshipping enemy of Israel.

Date of incident – Naaman was healed in about 850BC, which was about three years after the king of Israel (Ahab) was killed in a war between Aram and Israel.

What happened before? – The incident is preceded by examples of Israel’s sin (idolatry), which was followed by God’s judgment (defeat in battle and death). There are also examples of Israel’s faithfulness, which is followed by God’s reward (victory in battle).

What happened afterwards? – The incident is followed by Gehazi’s (Elisha’s servant) sin (greed), which is followed by God’s punishment (leprosy).

How did God usually communicate to people in those days? God communicated via prophets, whose message is recorded in the Old Testament.

What happened?

Naaman had a major problem – a skin disease like leprosy. This was a serious skin disease that covered his body for everyone to see. As this was incurable, he would have been dismayed and depressed. And he would have felt like someone who had terminal cancer.

But this isn’t the end of the story. The Biblical account describes how, with the help of God, Naaman was delivered from his problem. This involved traveling about 250 km (155 miles) from Damascus to Samaria to receive instructions from the prophet Elisha.

What did it mean then?

What’s the main point?

God healed a Gentile, who was outside the promises given to Israel! All Naaman had to do was to obey the Lord’s message given by Elisha. Jesus explained that when Israel rejected God, a Gentile received the covenant blessing instead (Lk. 4:24-27). For the Israelites, obedience led to physical blessings (Dt. 28:1-14). And disease was one of the punishments for disobedience (Dt. 28:21-22, 27-29). This was a lesson to the disobedient Israelites that they would only receive God’s blessing if they obeyed God.

This shows that God cared for people outside His special people (the Israelites). For example, God also cared for the people of Nineveh who were Assyrians, one of Israel’s enemies (Jon. 4:11). These Gentiles were “without hope and without God” (Eph. 2:11-12). But God’s kindness and grace is shown when He helps those like Gentiles who don’t deserve His help.

What other things did we notice?

There were a chain of people involved in Naaman’s healing: the servant girl-Naaman’s wife-Naaman-the king of Aram (Syria)-the king of Israel-Elisha-Elisha’s messenger-Naaman’s servants. We see that God uses people to carry out His purposes on earth. This includes both the godly (servant girl), and the ungodly (king of Israel). As God intended for Israel, she was a witness to God’s power (1 Ki. 8:41-43). Meanwhile, the king of Israel was worshipping idols.

There was only one way to be healed. Naaman had to overcome his pride and follow God’s instructions to be delivered from leprosy. Naaman thought his cure could be bought with wealth, but Elisha refused payment for what God had done. And Naaman thought that Elisha would heal him in a dramatic way, but it was clear that Elisha was not a healer but God’s messenger. Instead he was healed by the power of God.

After he was healed, Naaman changed from worshipping idols to worshipping the true God. This shows that he knew who had healed him and he was grateful and thankful.

What does it mean now?

What has changed since when Naaman lived?

How has the Bible changed? We now have the New Testament. Since the time of Naaman, Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah.

Who are God’s people today? They are believers in Jesus Christ who are also called Christians, or the church. They can be from any nation – Jews have no special privileges, and Gentiles have no special barriers. They live under the new covenant given in the New testament, and not under the old one given to Moses. The books of Acts to Revelation in the Bible were written to the early church.

Under the new covenant, God promises spiritual blessings to those who follow Him, and not physical blessings like those in the old covenant (Dt. 28:1-14; Eph. 1:3).

What’s the main point?

What’s our major problem today? Is it poverty? War? Terrorism? Global warming? The economy? Destruction of the natural environment? Overpopulation? Or, inequality? Like Naaman’s disease, these are all physical problems.

The Bible says that the root cause of all these problems is human sin. We have all sinned and the consequence is separation from God (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). So sin is our major problem. It’s all-encompassing. It’s like terminal cancer. And it keeps us from going to heaven, which is God’s perfect place for us. But unlike the other problems, it’s spiritual and not physical.

Naaman was healed after he humbly obeyed God’s instruction. At first, he arrogantly wanted to wash in the rivers of Damascus, instead of washing in the Jordan river in Israel. But after he changed his mind and washed in the Jordan river, he was delivered from the leprosy. Likewise, if we obey God’s instruction in the Bible, God can deliver us from our major problem of sin.

What’s sin?

The word ’sin’ can mean different things for different people including the following:

– Something naughty but fun (not too serious – like pornography – even adultery), or
– Something completely normal which religious weirdo’s think is wrong (like dancing), or
– A list of don’ts that an angry fictional God keeps score over, or
– Big ticket moral failures (like murder, theft etc.).

According to the Bible, sin is anything that we think, say, or do that displeases God or that breaks His laws. And it includes not doing what we know we should. Sin is a symptom of humanity’s rebellion against God.

Lessons for us

What’s the application to unbelievers?

Like Naaman, unbelievers have a major problem. It’s called sin. But they can be delivered if they obey God’s instructions by confessing their sin and trusting in Christ’s vicarious payment of the penalty. Like Naaman, there is only one way of deliverance. It’s good to know that God can deliver us from our major problem. But we need to seek His help.

We’re all rebels and God is entitled to hold us to account for our treatment of Him. But judgment isn’t the last word with God. The good news is that, whilst “the wages of sin is death [separation from God]” … “the free gift of God is eternal life [in heaven] through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23NLT). So, while there’s still time, stop and ask Jesus for help.

What’s the application to believers?

Like the servant girl, Christians know about God’s solution to people’s major problem of sin. But do we share God’s way of deliverance with others?

After Naaman was healed, he offered thanks and praise to the real God who delivered him from a major problem. Do we regularly thank and praise God for delivering us from the penalty of our sin?

Written, June 2019

Also see: Continual Thanksgiving


Lessons from Egypt

Mena Egypt - 1915 400pxAll families have stories to tell, regardless of their culture or their circumstances. When parents share family stories, their children benefit in many ways. They demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions. And they more often have higher self-esteem, more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.

In Psalm 78 the Israelites are reminded of lessons from their history so they could to tell the next generation about what God had done. The main historical event recalled is the exodus from Egypt (Ps. 78:13-13; 42-53).

Egypt reminds me of two great characters in the Old Testament. Joseph and Moses both rescued God’s people. Joseph rescued them from a famine and Moses rescued them from slavery. Joseph led them into Egypt and Moses led them out of Egypt.

The events in Egypt described in the Bible range from the safety of a refuge to the tyranny of slavery.

A refuge from danger

Famine was one of the dangers in the ancient world. Both Abraham and Jacob’s family (the Israelites) travelled to Egypt to avoid a famine (Gen. 12:10 – 13:1; 46:1-7). Although Abraham’s visit was short, the other visit was for about 400 years. The longer visit was enabled by Joseph who rose to a position equivalent to that of Governor or Prime Minister.

There are some similarities between the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus. They were both rejected and betrayed. But their suffering saved many (Gen. 50:20; Jn. 3:16). And they were about 30 years of age when Joseph was put in charge of Egypt and when Jesus began His ministry (Gen. 41:46; Lk. 3:23).

Others fled to Egypt to escape danger. Jeroboam fled to Egypt because Solomon wanted to kill him (1 Ki 11:40 – 12:2; 2 Chron. 10:2). After the invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, some Jews fled to Egypt (2 Ki. 25:25-26; Jer. 41:16-18) and later a group of Jews forced Jeremiah to go with them to Egypt (Jer. 43:6-7). And Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt because Herod was killing all male Jewish infants. Joseph was divinely directed to take Mary and Joseph to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod (Mt. 2:13-20).

On these occasions Egypt was a safe refuge that people could run to for protection.

Oppressive slavery

Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. But he rose to be second to the king and his family thrived in Egypt. Later they were subject to slavery when a new Pharaoh cruelly used them for slave labor. They were only delivered from this under the leadership of Moses after the miraculous ten plagues. The Bible says, “the Lord at one time delivered His people out of Egypt” (Jude 1:5NIV).

There are some similarities between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus. They both narrowly escaped being killed by a king who was murdering baby boys. They both performed miracles. They both led God’s people out of captivity, being from slavery to Egypt in the case of Moses and from slavery to sin in the case of Jesus. They both mediated a covenant between God and humanity. And the Bible says that Jesus is a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37).

The exodus was a great victory of the God of the Israelites over the gods of Egypt, which was to be remembered in the annual Passover Festival. After the exodus, Egypt came to represent all that is opposed to God. After the decline of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon become the main distant enemies of the Israelites.

On this occasion Egypt was an oppressive place of punishment that people wanted to run away from. But during the journey from Egypt to Canaan the Israelites were tempted to return to Egypt.

An idolatrous nation

The Egyptians worshipped many gods (polytheism). And their Pharaohs were considered to be divine. Whereas the Israelites worshipped the true God and they were forbidden to marry idolatrous and immoral foreigners because they would cause them to be unfaithful to God (Dt. 7:1-4; 1 Ki. 11:1-13; Ezra 9:1-2, 10-12, 14).

When Moses was on Mount Sinai during the exodus, the Israelites built a golden calf idol (Ex. 32). So they disobeyed God and worshipped Egyptian gods instead.

Later when Israel was settled in the promised land, King Solomon married an Egyptian princess and many other foreign women who turned him to idolatry. Because of this disobedience, God caused the nation to be divided into two kingdoms (1 Ki. 11:9-13).

And when Jeroboam returned from Egypt to establish the northern kingdom of Israel, he set up calf images in Dan and Bethel (1 Ki. 12:26-33). These may have been Egyptian gods (or those of the Canaanites). Jeroboam’s sin was idolatry (1 Ki. 14:9). And subsequent kings of Israel followed his wicked example. Finally, God allowed the kingdom of Israel to be invaded by the Assyrians because of their idolatry (2 Ki. 17:7-23).

Likewise, many of the kings of Judah also worshiped idols. And finally, God allowed the kingdom of Judah to be invaded by the Babylonians because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-6). When some of these Jews fled to Egypt they were warned of disaster because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-30).

So Egypt was one of the nations that influenced the Israelites to worship idols instead of the true God. This idolatry led to the downfall of the Jewish nation when they were driven from their lands just as they had driven the Canaanites from their lands 770-900 years earlier.

Lessons for us

What can we learn from the role of Egypt in the history of the Israelites? They lived under the old covenant of Moses, whereas Christians live under the new covenant of Jesus.

First, God cares for His people. As He cared physically for the Israelites, so He cares spiritually for those who trust in Him through Jesus today. Their salvation is assured.

Second, God is powerful. As miracles accompanied the Israelites deliverance from Egypt (ten plagues; crossing the Red Sea), so miracles accompanied Christ’s act of salvation (Christ’s resurrection) and will accompany Christians deliverance from the presence of sin (their resurrection).

Third, God’s people needed to obey Him in order to benefit from His care and power. Obedience leads to blessing. To be delivered from Egypt the Israelites needed to obey God’s instructions given by Moses. Likewise, to be delivered from sin, we need to accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. Have you done this?

Fourth, disobedience and idolatry (following something or someone else than the true God) leads to God’s judgment. God wants His people to be faithful. Are idols keeping you from living for Jesus?

What can we tell the next generation about what God has done for us? That’s the best kind of family stories to tell.

Appendix: Egypt

Egypt is mentioned in the Bible more times than any other place outside Canaan/Israel (in 673 verses of the ESV). Egypt and Israel shared a border in antiquity as they do today. And Goshen in Egypt is about 400km (250 miles) from Jerusalem. Egypt (Mitsrayim in Hebrew, Strongs #4714) is named after the grandson of Noah (son of Ham) who settled there after the global flood (Gen. 10:6).

Israel is located between the Nile river (to the southwest) and the Euphrates river (to the north east). Nations thrived in these fertile river valleys and they were great powers in the ancient world. And it’s not surprising that the inhabitants of Israel were influenced by superpowers such as the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

Written, December 2017

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho

Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice


How to survive tough times

Fire damage - Oct 2013Recently we saw the terror and devastation of bush fires in the Blue Mountains of Australia. It was a tough time for those in the path of the fire. They didn’t get much warning and had to escape for their lives. Afterwards, some returned to see their house in ruins. They searched through the rubble to recover what they could. What if our house and belongings are destroyed in a fire?

How do we respond when our dreams are shattered? When our relationships break down? When our health is threatened? Or when we are overcome by the emptiness of loneliness? Do we plunge into depression, despair and discouragement when there is disappointment, stress or tragedy? What can help us get through tough times?

Some say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”. But we will see that this is not God’s way. Today we are looking at how to survive tough times. We will see from Ezekiel’s vision that, because God will rescue us, we can survive tough times (Ezek. 37:1-14).

In particular, so we can survive tough times we will determine: Who will God rescue? How will God rescue? And when will God rescue?

Context

Ezekiel was a Jew captive in Babylon. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC was a tragedy for the Jews. Everything they lived for was gone and the Babylonian gods had triumphed over their God. They were devastated. The Bible says they had bitter memories in Babylon, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Ps. 137:1-4NIV). They could no longer sing the songs of Jerusalem or play their musical instruments. Jeremiah described their misery; “Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed” (Lam. 3:48).

The verses before the vision say they were scattered and in exile because of their murder and idolatry (36:16-21) and they also predict Israel’s restoration (36:22-38). The Jews will return to Israel from other countries. There will be a great spiritual revival and prosperity and other people will acknowledge God. God does the restoration, which is associated with their repentance. The words “I will”, are mentioned 15 times in 15 verses. He will give them a new heart, a new spirit and forgive their sins.

The verses after the vision also predict Israel’s restoration (37:15-28). The Jews from both Israel and Judah will return to Israel from other countries. They will have one king, “my servant David”, who is Jesus Christ, a descendant of David. They will live as God’s people and there will be no more idolatry. The result is that once again God will be their God and they will be His people (37:27).

The vision of the dry bones is about the restoration and revival of the Jewish nation because it’s mentioned both before and after the vision. After they were plundered, scattered and captured it looked like the end of the Jews. It was a hopeless situation. But God said no; I will intervene.

valley of dry bones croppedWho will God rescue?

Ezekiel’s vision is a valley full of dry bones. They had been dead a long time. There was no life in them. Then God brings them back to life, first as a body lying on the ground and then as a body with breath that stands up. God says, “these bones are the people of Israel” and He calls them “my people” (v.11). They had been slain in battle and they rose as a vast army (v.9-10). It’s a picture of Israel’s army slain by the Babylonians.

What else do the dry bones symbolise? In the vision they say “our hope is gone, we are cut off” (v.11). The dry bones illustrate the hopelessness of the Jews in Babylon. They are over 1,000 km from their homeland and their capital city and temple has been destroyed. Although they are God’s special people they are spiritually dead with nothing to live for. Every day they are reminded of the demise of their nation and the Babylonian victory. They are captive in a foreign land with a foreign language (Jer. 5:15).

So, who will God rescue? His people. They will be rescued because they are God’s people, not because of anything else that they had done. Because of this promise they can survive tough times.

Hostages Tehran 1980 2In 1980, 52 Americans were hostages in the US Embassy in Tehran in Iran for 444 days. They were treated cruelly, beaten, placed in solitary confinement and threatened with execution. An American military operation planned to rescue them, but this was aborted after a helicopter crashed into a transport aircraft. In tough times we can feel like a hostage in a foreign land in a hopeless situation. It’s not unusual.

Christians are the people of God today (1 Pt. 2:9-10). The Bible says we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). And we will also be rescued because we are God’s people, not because of anything we have done. Like the Jews in Babylon, because of this promise we can survive tough times.

Now we know who God will rescue. But how will he rescue them?

How will God rescue?

In Ezekiel’s vision, God says how it will happen;“I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life” (v.5-6). Also, “ I will bring you back to the land of Israel … I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land (v.12-14). Notice that “I will” is mentioned 5 times. So it’s all God’s doing, they had no part in it. They didn’t deserve it. He rescues them when they are in a seemingly hopeless situation and unable to rescue themselves. He’s a God of grace. God does the restoration and brings them to repentance after Ezekiel called them to repent (33:11; 36:31).

In the rescue they would return to their homeland and there would be a spiritual revival. God used an illustration to help them understand it. He said, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them” (v.12). The rescue will be like a resurrection, where a dead body comes back to life. It’s a radical change, from exile to their homeland and from spiritual death to spiritual life. The prospect of the rescue gave them encouragement and strength to endure the tough times.

It’s all part of the big picture in the Bible of God rescuing people from their sinful ways. Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, people are spiritually dead. At that time, God promised that He would defeat Satan. Since then He has carried out His rescue plan. For example, He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. After the times of king David, God promised the Israelites that a Messiah would come to lead them. He was the servant-king predicted by Isaiah (Is. 42, 49, 50, 52-53). The New Testament shows that Jesus was this Suffering Servant (Mt. 12:14-21). This shows why God will rescue. It’s because it’s His main plan for humanity and the universe. To restore it to be like He made it in the beginning. It’s part of His character. He’s a rescuing God.

God also promises that Christians will return to their homeland (Jn. 14:1-3; Phil. 3:20-21). But our home is not Jerusalem, but heavenly Zion (Heb. 12:22-24). This rescue will include resurrection, when the dead come back to life (1 Cor. 15:50-55). And it won’t be a botched rescue, because it will be by the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. In this way, Christ is our Rescuer and Savior. This promise helps us survive tough times.

What about the promise of spiritual revival? When a person turns around to follow Jesus, they undergo a spiritual revival. They are now “in Christ”, a new creation and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 5:17). Because of their spiritual revival, Christians can survive tough times (1 Cor. 10:13).

Now we know who God will rescue and how he will do it. But when will He rescue His people?

When will God rescue?

In Ezekiel’s vision, God says when it will happen, “I will bring you back to the land of Israel …  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land (v.12-14). It’s when they return to their homeland and are spiritually revived. This happened in part when some returned to Israel in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. God used the Persian king Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and allow these Jews to return to Jerusalem (Is. 45:1-8).

But the full extent of their restoration is yet to come; when their land will be like the garden of Eden (36:35), when all the 12 tribes will be united (37:15-22), and when their king will once again be a descendant of David (37:24-23). So there was a partial rescue after the exile, but their complete rescue is yet to come. Maybe this was illustrated in the vision when the bones came to life in two stages.

Mine rescue Beaconsfield 2In 2006, two miners were rescued from a gold mine in Beaconsfield in Tasmania after being trapped underground for 14 days. When we go through tough times, we can feel trapped in a dark place with no way out.  There were two stages to their rescue. First a 90mm hole was drilled to give them food, fresh water and for communication. Second a 1m hole was drilled to enable some miners to crawl in and get them out. In the first stage they were sustained. In the second stage they were released.

Likewise there are two stages to our rescue. First, through God’s power when we chose to turn around and follow Jesus, we are rescued spiritually. We change from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Second, through God’s power when we die, our spirits go to be with the Lord and when Christ returns our bodies will be resurrected and changed (1 Cor. 15:50-55). So the two stages of our rescue are a spiritual revival, which sustains us in tough times; followed by a homecoming, which releases us from the tough times. At present we are half way. We can look back to stage one and ahead to stage two.

So, because through Christ’s death and resurrection Christians have spiritual life which sustains us, we can survive tough times. And because of the promise of being with the Lord and released, we can survive tough times. Clearly we can only survive tough times, in God’s power.

If you lack this power to get through tough times, then this is a reason to turn your life around to follow Jesus. The saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” is wrong because we don’t need to toughen up and work hard to survive tough times. Instead, let’s rely on God’s saving power in Christ and His sustaining power in the Holy Spirit.

It would be wrong to use Ezekiel’s vision to claim that God will remove our tough times on earth. Ezekiel probably died in Babylon before the partial return to the homeland (he would have been ~85 years of age if still alive when the first exiles returned to Judah under Zerubbabel in 538 BC). Even though he didn’t reach stage 1 of the rescue, the promise helped him endure the tough times. Recently I spoke to a believer struggling with a chronic disease. He felt he had nothing to live for. He was disappointed in God, saying, “What’s God doing about it? It would be a great witness if I was healed”. In the Bible Abraham told the rich man in Hades, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Lk. 16:29-31). People are not convinced by miracles. How often do we pray for a miracle, when God promises survival through tough times on earth, not removal of these tough times? After all, we are in stage 1 of the rescue, not stage 2.

Because God will rescue us, we can survive tough times

So let’s remember the vision of the dry bones that came back to life. When they were doing it tough in Babylon in the darkest period of their history, God gave the Jews comfort and strength. Because He promised to rescue them, they survived the tough times. Some of them returned to Israel and Christ was born about 500 years later. After another 2,000 years more Jews have returned to Israel and it is a nation once again. And God has promised there will be a spiritual revival when they recognise Christ as their Messiah in a coming day.

Because God is a rescuer, we can survive tough times. We have seen:
– Who He rescues: His people. In future, all believers will be fully rescued from their tough times.
– How He rescues: by spiritual revival and bringing us home.
– And when He rescues: partially now and fully later.
He has already rescued us and promises to rescue us even more in the future. This gives us encouragement and strength. Remember this promise when you are going through tough times.

Because we know that God will rescue us, we can survive tough times.

Written, November 2013


Four Great Rescues

Rescues that save and protect people from harm and danger are God’s idea

Stories about the rescue of refugees from war-torn countries and people from earthquakes and severe accidents appear often in the news media. Last September, the rescue of thousands of people from the terrorists’ destruction of New York’s Twin Towers made news around the world. In this article we will look at four great rescues, three from the past and one yet to come: the boat that saved Noah’s family; the exodus from Egypt; the cross of Christ; and Christ’s second coming. These major rescues are key historical events that bring salvation to humanity. The typical sequence of events for these rescues is: a promise given, the people’s faith, God’s action enabling the rescue, and the thanksgiving afterward.

The Boat
When God told Noah that, because of the wickedness of humanity, He was sending a global flood that would destroy everything that breathed, He promised that Noah’s family would be kept safe in a boat (Gen. 6:18). Before this major disaster occurred God had a rescue plan in mind.

God took the initiative, but also relied on Noah making a significant contribution to the rescue. He gave specific instructions on how to make the boat, including its dimensions and materials used. God designed the boat and Noah supervised its construction. Noah was also told what provisions to store for the first recorded voyage, when to enter the boat, and when to leave it (Gen. 6:14-16,21; 7:1; 8:16).

Because Noah did everything God told him to do, the boat carried its occupants safely through the disaster to re-populate the earth (Gen. 6:22; 7:5). It was a place of refuge for the eight people who were rescued because they believed the warning and trusted God’s promise (1 Pet. 3:20).

After they left the boat, Noah thanked God by offering sacrifices. God responded by blessing Noah’s family and by using a rainbow to signify His promise that there would be no more global floods (Gen. 8:20; 9:8-17).

The Exodus
“Exodus” is a Greek word meaning “departure.” Israel’s escape from four centuries of slavery in Egypt is another example of a great rescue by God. Many years before, Joseph had faith to speak about God’s promise to take the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land (Gen. 50:24-25; Heb. 11:22). Later, God announced that He would free them from slavery in Egypt, redeem them with mighty power and great acts of judgment and bring them into the Promised Land (Ex. 6:6-8).

Moses “led them out of Egypt” after God used ten plagues to force Pharaoh to let them go (Acts 7:36 NIV). Very detailed instructions were given for the final plague, when each Jewish household had to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the door frame of the house. That night they were to eat a special meal that included lamb’s meat and unleavened bread in preparation for a long journey. They were to stay inside their houses until morning. The Israelites did as they were told, and at midnight the Lord killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians and the firstborn of their livestock. But the Jews were protected by the blood on their doorways.

Pharaoh finally relented after the tragedy of the Passover, and the Jews were told to leave Egypt as quickly as possible (Ex. 12:31-33). When the Egyptians came in pursuit, the Israelites were afraid; but Moses said, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the Lord rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. The Lord Himself will fight for you. You won’t have to lift a finger” (Ex. 14:13-14 nlt). Then God miraculously helped them cross the Red Sea while drowning the Egyptian army (Ex. 13:17-14:31).

God also performed other miracles to help two million Israelites get to Canaan: He guided them through the desert by pillars of cloud and fire, provided food and water in the desert, and victory over their enemies (Ex. 12:37; 13:21; 15:22-17:7; Num. 11:31; 20:2-11; 21:1-3, 21-35).

During their journey the people complained about their hardships (Num. 11:1-6). God told them to send spies to explore Canaan, but they reported that the inhabitants were too powerful, and the people complained again and said they wanted to return to Egypt! As a result of their rebellion, God caused them to wander for another 38 years in the desert. When they tried to enter the Promised Land in their own strength, they were defeated.

The Exodus from Egypt was God’s idea and happened under His power. Concerned about the suffering of His people in Egypt, God acted to rescue them and bring them to Canaan (Ex. 2:24-25; 3:7-10). He said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but Me, no Savior except Me” (Hos. 13:4). God raised up Moses to bring His people out of Egypt and told him what to do and say (Ex. 3:14-22; 7:20). Moses obeyed God’s instructions and was the mediator and intercessor between God and the people. He was a vital part of God’s plan. The people had to obey and trust God in order to escape from Egypt.

After they crossed the Red Sea, the people sang a song of thanksgiving (Ex. 15:1-21). It began, “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him” (Ex. 15:1-2).

The Exodus from Egypt was the greatest example of deliverance for Israel and undergirded their knowledge of God as the Savior, even though it was later forgotten (Ps. 106:21).

The Cross
After the fall of humanity into sin, God promised that the Messiah would triumph over Satan (Gen. 3:15). There are many promises in the Old Testament about the Messiah. Christ’s mission was to “save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today … a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11). So Jesus saves people from great danger and brings them to a position of safety.

The Bible records that Jesus was executed on a cross. His death and resurrection are the central events of the Christian faith. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). This was God’s greatest rescue in history: “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

Christ’s death and resurrection are God’s provision for us. When the flood came, the boat God provided for Noah’s family was the only means of being rescued; those outside perished. Similarly, personal acceptance of Christ’s work is the only way of being rescued from God’s coming judgment (1 Th. 1:10; 1 Pet. 3:18-21). His death and resurrection are also like Moses who rescued the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

In this case the rescue was planned by God and carried out by Christ “who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). “The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). The Bible also says that God has saved us, not because of anything we have done but because of His grace (2 Tim. 1:9). Only Jesus has the power to save people from the lake of fire. His name is the only one that can save anyone (Acts 4:12). God loved us so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

In this case the rescue also depends on an act of faith: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom. 10: 9-10). The thanksgiving song that believers will sing throughout eternity is, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12).

The Second Coming
Christ’s second coming has two main parts, the Rapture and the Appearing. The Rapture is the next major scene in God’s rescue plan, marking the end of the Church age and the beginning of the Tribulation period. Like the Church, the Rapture was a mystery unknown in Old Testament times, but revealed in the New Testament (1 Cor. 15:51).

By the Rapture Christ rescues believers from the coming period of judgment called the Tribulation, and by the cross He rescues them from the eternal punishment of their sins (1 Th. 1:10).

When Jesus spoke about heaven He promised, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2-3). The Rapture will be a miraculous event when Christ will raise the dead and transform the living. Christian faith ensures participation in this event. Afterward there will be much thanksgiving at the marriage feast of the Lamb. This will be a great celebration for all believers: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).

The other phase of the second coming is the appearing of the Lord; it ends the tribulation. After Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives two angels asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1: 11).

The Appearing, when the Lord comes to the earth in great power and judgment, will be an awesome event (2 Th. 1:6-10). In this life, faith ensures participation in this event, as one of those with the Lord when He establishes His kingdom on earth. Those rescued out of the Tribulation, who pass alive into the Millennium, sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, the latter celebrating the final rescue from Satan (Rev. 15:2-3).

A Great Lifesaver
Rescues that save and protect people from harm and danger are God’s idea. He used a boat to save Noah’s family from the flood, and Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery and into the Promised Land. He sent Jesus on a rescue mission to die on the cross to save us from the lake of fire. He has promised to come again to take believers to heaven and return to the earth later to rescue those who trust in Him during the Tribulation. These examples make one thing clear: God has great power to save His people.

Peter reminds us that unbelievers will be punished, but God’s people will be rescued. If God rescued Noah’s family, then we are promised that “the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4-9).

Our Response
As God rescued Noah’s family and the children of Israel, He will also rescue those who trust in Him. God has done His part to rescue us from our due punishment, and to restore us back to Him. What about you?

Are you in the boat or out in the flood? Will you be safe or sorry? There are only two alternatives. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but the choice is ours. Those who trust in Christ’s victory on the cross have been rescued from the power of Satan, their sins are forgiven and they are safely on their way to heaven (Col. 1:13-14). Those outside are destined to the lake of fire. Trust Him and He will rescue you for eternity.

As a Christian, are you following the pillars of cloud and fire towards the Promised Land or wandering around in the desert because of your sins (1 Cor. 10:1-13)? Are you on the right road or lost on a side road? We need God’s saving power day by day.

He wants to help us every day and He has given us the pattern which is the same as for the major rescues: God’s promises, plus our faith, followed by our thanksgiving: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). Our faith should be continually increasing as faithfulness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (2 Cor. 10:15; Gal. 5:22). We are exhorted to “live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7).

He has given us many promises in the Bible and if we trust Him in these, like those saved in the great rescues of the Bible, we will see His power in our lives. We can trust in Christ’s victory to rescue us from the power of sin and Satan (1 Jn. 1:9).

Published: April 2002